After midterms, we got a week's break from classes and our program took us to the Sichuan province, famous for spicy food and PANDAS.
This lovely trip started out with a 25 hour train ride, which was supposed to give us "experience" on a train. I had already had a train "experience" and could have definitely done without the 25 hours in a tiny confined area without real food. My car was all TBC students including my close friends, so it wasn't completely awful. The first 5 or 6 hours were great! The train took us from Beijing to Chengdu, the capital of the province.
We got there in the early evening and had the rest of the day to explore on our own. We were quite hungry so we went in search of food down a street across from our hotel that was full of promising restaurants. Most of these restaurants were hotpot, a style of restaurant/food where you sit at a table with a sort of gas stove top in the middle. They bring out a big pot of liquid that is divided into two sides: one spicy, one mild. When I say spicy that is a gross understatement. To be considered "spicy" in Sichuan, the food must leave physical scars down your esophagus before burning a clean hole through your stomach all the while coating your tongue in hell fire. Hotpot is the prime example of this. Along with the liquid, they give you raw meats and vegetables. After the pot comes to a boil, you cook the meat and vegetables in the liquid. The spicy part is unbearable to begin with, but as it boils down it becomes more and more condensed and more and more deadly. My friends and I are wimps when it comes to spicy hotpot. None of us would dare cook our meat in the spicy broth. Instead I cooked it entirely in the mild part before dipping it for a nanosecond in the spicy. The burn still lasted for hours.
I think it's pretty safe to say we will not be having hotpot ever again, since out of the six of us, three of my friends got violently ill with food poisoning after eating it. Bad luck. I, thankfully, was fine, but have no desire to eat it again. Tons of other people in our group got really sick, too. A good third, at least.
The next day, those of us who were not dead went to the panda reserve!!!!!!!!! Not much to say on this except that there were PANDAS!!! I probably took far too many pictures, but they're so dang cute. Enjoy.
All they do is sit, sleep, and eat. What a life.
One of my friends paid to hold a baby giant panda, but Gabrielle and I decided to save money and hold the cardboard stand-ups instead. They weren't very cuddly.
I wanted to hold something fluffy, so I opted for the red panda. More raccoon-like, but still adorable.
I had to get all suited up to avoid spreading/receiving diseases
They plopped him on my lap for about 2 minutes, enough to snap a couple pictures, before they handed him to someone else. I want one as a pet. In the museum part of the reserve, they had these awful stuffed animal exhibits. They're all kind of hilariously deformed.
This red panda is not as cute as the real thing.
One of the Olympic torches! Not THE torch, but you know, still kind of cool. This was at an ancient iron and bronze tools museum, so I'm not entirely sure why it's here.
That night we went to a Sichuan variety show. It sounded kind of kitchy, but they said that there would be traditional opera and all kinds of fun stuff, so we went anyway. It was at a legit tea house. The show was quite impressive and entertaining.
This woman was doing tricks with the puppet. She could control every finger on its hand, or at least made it seem so. Amusing short play about a husband and wife. She's punishing him because he gambled away all their money.
Now comes the most awesome part: the face changing opera. These actor are wearing 5 or 6 masks at a time and can change them with a wave of a hand. There's also a guy who breathes fire. It's hard to describe, so watch the video.
The next day we spent wandering around Chengdu and we found this really neat old district down the street from our hotel.
The scenery was pretty, but there were also a lot of cool restaurants, shops, snack stands, and art booths.
This guy was making tiny little sculptures out of melted sugar.
The next day we drove to see the Leshan Giant Buddha. It was sculpted between AD 713 and 803 to be a protective icon in the cliff. It is the biggest Buddha statue in the world, and quite impressive to see in person, you can imagine. It's 230 feet high. His earlobe alone is 23 feet long.
There are a lot of people on the cliff up by his head, but since he's so huge and they're so small you can't even see them.
We had to climb down a ton of really steep stairs to get to the bottom by his feet.A bored monk reading inbetween ringing the gong for kneeling Buddhists.
When we left the Leshan Buddha we took a long hike with lots of old buildings and structures on our way.
These are Han dynasty tombs. I never actually found out who was buried here...
They look pretty awesome, though.
We left the next day for Chongqing, one of the biggest cities in China. On our way, we stopped at a dinosaur museum. You know, like you usually do in these kinds of situations.
We got there early in the morning and the staff at the museum told our tour guide that the building had no power. So we had to wander around the "park" area for about 45 minutes.
There were all these rubber dinosaur statues around the museum grounds. I found this "scene" particularly amusing, especially if you read the sign.
These are the "dinosaur bone". I'm not sure if they're legit or not. My money's on not.
These ones were inside the building, which eventually regained power, and looked like they might actually be real. Who knows.
After leaving the museum, we drove to the Dazu Grottos which are carvings that date back to the 7th century. The carvings tell a series of stories that come from Confucianism, Daoism, and Buddhism.
Yes, this tree is hooked up to several IVs. It was at the entrance of the visitor's center. It's probably a tree that's hundreds of years old that they're trying to save.
This is a wheel depicting the cycle of reincarnation.
This is a carving depicting Buddhist hell. See that wheel in the lower right hand corner? There is a man being crushed beneath it.
This part shows a man about to be thrown in a vat of boiling oil. Yay!
The grottos aren't entirely finished. While the monks were in the middle of carving this one, they heard that enemy invaders were coming and fled.
That night in Chongqing we decided we were tired of Chinese food and would treat ourselves to delicious Western food. We looked up what was supposed to be the best Italian food restaurant in Chongqing and took a taxi there. On the way, we passed this pirate ship that was all lit up and decided we would come back and check it out after dinner. Dinner was alright, but it wasn't quite what we were craving. It didn't taste very authentic, still very Chinese-influenced. But Colleen, Stephanie, and I came back to look for the pirate ship! By the time we got to it, the lights had all been turned off and whatever had been open was closed. We decided to explore anyway.
It looked super sketchy, but we walked down these steps anyway. I'm so glad we did, because this is what we found:
It was an alley of stairs that was entirely pirate-themed!! During the day/evening there are a couple restaurants here that are open. It was too bad we hadn't discovered this before dinner.
We followed the steps all the way down until we reached the river. It was very cool and peaceful, but too dark so none of my pictures turned out. I really liked Chongqing, it was a fun city. I wish we had been there for more than just one night. We stayed in a really nice hotel here, but the rooms were kind of crazy. I roomed with Gabrielle for the trip, and our room had a very nice bathroom, but two out of it's four walls were transparent glass. Completely see-through. We later discovered that the wooden wall that held the tv slid across to cover part of one of the walls. One of my friends had a room with a furry fire place. I'm not entirely sure what the decorators were thinking, but it was pretty fun.
On our last day in Chongqing, they took us to the Sitwell museum. I guess the American General Sitwell was pretty important to Chongqing during WWII. This was his house.
We went to this fun market for lunch. It was PACKED with people! Lots of neat shops and restaurants, though. Also a lot of independent artists working out of shops here.
We spent the rest of the afternoon at a HOT SPRING!!! So much fun! There were all kinds of things to do there. My favorite pool was full of these little minnow-like fish who nipped at your dead skin. It sounds really gross and painful, but it tickled a lot. There was also a place where you could bury yourself in warm spring water rocks.
From the hotsprings, the bus took us straight to the airport. And now I'm back!
Now for more fun signs!!!!
For those who can't read it, "Your Feet May Damage Lovely Soul."